During a White House press conference earlier today, a reporter confronted White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about Occupy Wall Street protestors “taking things too far.”
Carney supported the US Park Police’s (USPP) decision to continue balancing First Amendment concerns with public safety and health concerns.
The exchange was as follows:
Reporter: Occupy Wall Street protestors are making headlines again as you know over the weekend. Four hundred protestors were arrested in Oakland and now today the NPS are expected to clear out protestors potentially as we speak… here in DC. What is your reaction? Is the administration concerned that some of these protestors are taking things too far?
Carney: Well, in regard to Oakland, that’s obviously that’s a local law enforcement matter. Here in Washington uh, I would refer you for specifics to the US National Park Service and the US Park Police. And uh, our position has been and continues to be that we need balance First Amendment concerns of the right to demonstrate, the right to speak freely, and with public safety concerns and public health concerns and we understand that whether that… whether that… local law enforcement as well as in the case, in this case you have the National Park Service and the US Park Police are weighing those considerations and that’s appropriate.
The USPP’s decision to consider the Occupy movement’s First Amendment concerns came under fire by House Republicans last week when representatives drilled National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis in a Congressional hearing last Tuesday.
When Jarvis explained that the federal police considered it their job to uphold citizens’ First Amendment rights, Republican lawmaker Darrel Issa from California fired back that he thought it was the police’s job to uphold the law.
“Camping is not a First Amendment activity. It is a violation of the law. Sleeping (in a national park) is not a First Amendment activity, it is a violation of law,” he retorted to Jarvis. Issa then added, “I believe the National Park Service has allowed protestors to camp indefinitely for ideological reasons.”
The current position of the US Park Police has also come under fire by the District of Columbia Council and Mayor Vincent Gray who asked to have the McPherson Square and Freedom Park sites cleared for public health reasons.
Conflicts about governance and law enforcement between the District of Columbia government and federal government have been contentious ever since the Home Rule Act of 1973 was passed by the federal legislature. The act granted DC citizens some legislative power while also enabling the District to have more control over their own law enforcement agencies even though it still falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress.
Federal law enforcement officials, however, still retain control over federal properties such as the White House perimeter, U.S. Capitol, other federal buildings such as the FBI and federal parks such as the ones Occupy protestors are currently camped out in.
The act provides that Congress can revoke the District’s home rule charter at any time or pass legislation that effects the District without the approval of DC government or residents.